Estimates range from $2,000 to $4,000 for Shay Docking’s 1957 oil painting of a street scene in the pretty Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy to $600,000 to $800,000 for one by Sidney Nolan . Cross the riverfrom 1964.
Although we won’t know for sure until next week’s auction, Cbus’ initial investment of $2 million appears to have paid off, perhaps not as generously as a super fund would like, but honorably enough. The sale of highlights is estimated to total $5.5-7.7 million. A total of 310 works will be sold, with a total value of approximately $9 million.
Adjusted for inflation, Cbus’ initial $2 million investment equates to about $4 million today, so if the auction goes ahead on schedule, the collection will have at least doubled in value. .
Sales of major corporate collections have proven to be attractive to buyers, as evidenced by the rush for NAB collection highlights in February. That sale doubled its low estimate to fetch $10.5 million (including buyer’s fees), as the online auction system collapsed due to the onslaught of eager buyers.
But when looking more specifically at the trajectory of individual works of art in the Cbus collection, it’s clear that there are no guarantees when it comes to investing in art.
“Some things have increased dramatically in value and others have remained stable,” says Deutscher.
Many of the works in the collection have already been auctioned, which is where Joseph Brown bought them on behalf of Cbus, so it’s easy to keep track of price changes.
Judging by estimates, major works by established artists such as Russell Drysdale, Jeffrey Smart, Rosalie Gascoigne, Margaret Preston and John Brack have maintained or increased their market value.
The vivid and much-admired colors of Margaret Preston coastal gum trees, 1929, for example, which has an estimate of $180,000 to $240,000, last sold at Deutscher-Menzies in 2000 for $93,000 (hammer), nominally doubling in value over the past two decades. Adjusted for inflation, that $93,000 is about $155,000 today. Still, as Deutscher points out, the Preston “could go for a lot more”, given the renewed interest in his work.
The very small (18cm by 23cm) by Eugene von Guérard but beautiful On American Creek near Wollongong, ch. 1859 to 1861, has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. In 2000 it sold at auction for $48,000 (hammer), the equivalent of $80,000 today, right on its current low estimate. In real terms, its value has barely changed.
One of Cressida Campbell’s earliest paintings on paper, Reflection of mosquito coils, from 1980, last sold at auction in 1991 for just $500 (hammer) – about $1,000 in real terms. Campbell’s one-of-a-kind wood paintings are up a storm at auction these days, with his current record standing at $420,000 (hammer) for The verandafrom 1987. The impressionist, almost Matisse Reflection of mosquito coils is very different from what Campbell buyers are most interested in at auction, but may appeal to dedicated collectors of his work who want an early example. It has an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000, a five to seven times increase in real terms from its 1991 price.
Campbell tells Saleroom that she created the painting when she was living in Palm Beach, Sydney’s northern beaches, with a few other artists, with the group spending their days painting and drawing.
“There were always lots of mosquito coils,” says Campbell. She also made and painted the frame. She laughs and adds, “I haven’t changed much, have I? Half of my photos are called the reflection of something. I’m working on a reflection in the studio as we speak.
As mentioned, most of the paintings in the Cbus collection have already been sold at auction, but several have recently arrived on the market, notably that of William Delafield Cook. Hill, Ellerston, 1990, which has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000 and was acquired by Joseph Brown directly from the artist. Stylized pastoral scene by Eveline Syme, Tuscan landscape, ch. 1930 is also up for auction for the first time, with an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.
The highlights auction will be followed by three dedicated online-only sales in August, respectively featuring modern and contemporary art, traditional and modern art, and Indigenous art from the Cbus collection.
Ahead of the auction, Cbus declined to comment on whether the art collection had been a worthwhile investment, but one thing is certain, and that is the immeasurable return of goodwill from the community. Joseph Brown made it a condition of becoming an artistic adviser to Cbus that the collection be loaned to regional galleries, so that people in these largely blue-collar areas could have access to important Australian art. The collection was managed by the Latrobe Regional Gallery, in Gippsland, Victoria, and dispersed to public galleries in Wollongong, Newcastle, Geelong, Broken Hill, Bendigo, the Mornington Peninsula and Launceston.
Who knows, a life or two may have been transformed by this encounter with art. It’s the kind of result you won’t find on a spreadsheet, and its value is invaluable.